Dumb-Idea: DRM for Liquids via Reynolds-Number

pedrik - "Turbulence"

So I’ve got a soap dispenser…

It’s pretty cool.

It has some kind of sensor, so that it knows when your hands are underneath the nozzle, and then dispenses a serving of liquid-soap. It saves you from having to pump a little thing, and I guess actually saves me a tiny bit of time each day, and lets me get the soap one-handed. Nice.

The funny thing is that these kind of gadgets are super cheap. They’re usually cheaper, I suspect, than the cost of manufacture. The way that the companies that make such gadget recoup their costs is the same as the budget-printer industry - refills.

The refills cost a lot, and are pretty tiny. In order to stop you simply getting soap from a different source, the company will make your life difficult in various trivial ways so that it is more inconvenient to work around the issue than to buy more ElectroSoapCo (TM) brand refills, even though the prices are extortionate.

Some of the impediments:

  • Valve-like nozzles to prevent refills
  • Odd bottle-shapes to prevent competing refills
  • Smart nozzles to protect against tampering
  • Many more weird and wonderful frustrations

Well, I was having none of it. So my partner melted a hole in the top of the canister and then bought some generic brand hand-soap to refill the dispenser. Worked like a charm. Take that “the-man”.

But what if I was the man…?

Here’s my dumb idea -

Create an internal mechanism for the pump that depends on specific physical properties of their soap - I.e. Viscosity and Reynolds number. It should even be possible to find these properties that work for the existing mechanism and decrease the window of acceptance for a liquid. This way you can refill the machine however you like, but you’ve gotta buy the right soap, otherwise the machine will just jam, or leak, or if they want to be nice, warn you and not operate.

This DRM solution is low-tech, cheap, and reliable. It moves the problem from the auxiliary space - canisters, to the fundamental space - the liquid they wish to sell and you wish to use. It would be easy for a competitor to copy your soap’s properties, but the soap market is a very different space to the canister market. I think the bang-for-buck would be very good.

Interesting that I haven’t seen this before :)